Islamic State recruitment material

The methodology of this chapter, by necessity, differs from the previous two chapters. It was not possible to conduct ethnographic research with Islamic State foreign fighters or their supporters closer to home. As such, the chapter draws on a wide array of data to enable a broad comparison with the other two case studies focussed on religion, masculinity, and populism in the United Kingdom and United States. Pertinent information was sourced from Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from the national census, which is conducted every five years, most recently in 2016 (ABS 2016), and the Ipsos-Roose-Ttimer survey, with a specific emphasis on Muslim Australian responses in comparison to wider community responses (Ipsos et al. 2019). A Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) Analysis was conducted on Islamic State recruitment materials, including issues of Dabiq magazine (5 July 2014-31 July 2016) (ISIS 2014-2016) and Rumiyah magazine (5 September 2016-9 September 2017) (ISIS 2016-2017). In total, the analysis looked at 28 PDF editions of the two magazines, which totalled 720,314 words.

The magazines presented a particular data analysis challenge. LIWC software, targeted as it is at English-language texts, missed some important dimensions of the publications’ Arabic vocabulary. Islamic State magazines and videos have a distinct discursive and linguistic repertoire that fuses colloquial Arabic; classical Islamic Arabic, which is often spelt differently (depending upon the author); and other idiosyncratic framing and structures, which are not found in standard English-language texts. Finally, the data was supplemented with recruitment videos featuring Australian fighters, their blogs, and some interviews with family members conducted in late 2019 to provide a holistic perspective (Roose 2019).

The small sample size of Muslim Australians in the Ipsos survey (Ipsos et al. 2019) made it difficult to draw wider conclusions about Australian Muslims, so it was excluded. The 2016 ABS Australian census data is referenced in its place (ABS 2016). While this makes it difficult to make direct comparisons to the other case studies, broader insights drawn from the analysis are comparable.

Demographic background

Much has been written, particularly in the media, about the socio-economic base of support for ISIS. While Muslims in France, Belgium, Germany, and the UK face significantly greater socio-economic challenges, very little detailed evidence exists, in part due to the lack of compulsory national censuses. Compared to its European counterparts, Australia has the advantage of a census conducted every five years that captures a wide variety of data, including religion statistics. Given Australia’s very high per capita contributions to Islamic State foreign fighters, the census information is particularly useful.

Australia’s highly diverse Muslim population grew exponentially in the twenty-first century. The population almost doubled between 2001 and 2011, rising from 281,576 to 476,292 (ABS 2001; ABS 2011). In 2016 it stood at 604,240 (ABS 2016). Despite significant diversity, Australian-born Muslims constitute the largest subgroup, representing 36.4 per cent of the Muslim population (ABS 2016).

Significantly, in 2016 at the peak of Islamic State recruitment, 70.3 per cent of all Australian-born Muslims were under the age of 20 (ABS 2016), compared to 31.35 per cent for the wider Australian community. This means that, at the time, seven out of ten young Australian Muslims had grown up in a hostile social climate defined by securitisation, media scrutiny, and broad social hostility. In comparison, just 12.12 per cent of overseas-bom Muslims were under the age of 20 (ABS 2016). The data indicates that Australian-born Muslims were much more likely to be a target of Islamic State recruitment efforts. To understand this further, it is important to grasp the dimensions of masculinity, identity, and religiosity amongst Australian Muslims.

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